Success in self-government negotiations

I don’t often talk about my work:  partly because most of the information I deal with is classified “secret”, and partly because it takes a long time to achieve results.

I’m pleased to acknowledge that I was part of the Government of Canada team that negotiated a self-government agreement between Canada, the Tsawwassen First Nation, and the Government of British Columbia. Tsawwassen members just voted to ratify the treaty:

Tsawwassen Chief Kim Baird“I’m very relieved, ecstatic that there is such strong support from the community for the treaty,” said Chief Kim Baird after 72 percent of Tsawwassen First Nation members voted in favour of the treaty. …

“The treaty represents our final break from the Indian Act — through self-government, not assimilation. Independent and self-defining, our government will be recognized as such when we join the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and will finally have access to water as well as autonomy over our land-use planning.”

(source: the blog of the National Chief of CAP, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; emphasis added)

You’ll notice that Chief Baird rejoices because Tsawwassen “will finally have access to water”. She’s referring to a long-standing dispute with the Regional Municipality of Delta, which allocates local water supplies.

From Tsawwassen’s perspective, the Regional Municipality had not supplied them with enough water to meet their needs. (Specifically, I believe the dispute concerned water which would be used by industry and would therefore contribute to economic development.) I’m not in a position to evaluate whether Tsawwassen’s concern was valid, so I’m not expressing a personal opinion on the matter.

Here are some of the details of the land claim settlement:

The Tsawwassen treaty includes 724 hectares [= 1,789 acres = 2.8 square miles] of land, about $35 million in cash and program start-up funds, a salmon allocation that covers commercial and ceremonial catches, special tax status and a spot for a representative on the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

The land settlement is small, not only because the First Nation has a small population, but also because it is located in an urban area. Land is a scarce resource and therefore quite valuable.

In return, the First Nation agrees to abandon further land claims and its members will pay taxes (phased in over time, ending the tax exempt status which is accorded to Indian Act band members).

Further reaction to the ratification vote:

Tsawwassen elder Ruth Adams danced her way out of the community centre after the announcement, hooting with glee.

She brushed off one of the more contentious issues in the treaty.

“If we make money, we pay taxes and that’s good,” she giggled. “Working is better than welfare.”

“Now we’ll be equal. We weren’t equal before.”

First Nations Summit Chief Judith Sayers said everyone involved in the treaty process was watching this vote.

“There are huge ramifications for this. There are other first nations that are hoping this is going to be a template for them,” she said.

One of the most controversial parts is the government’s removal of 207 hectares of the proposed treaty land from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The last paragraph refers to another dispute with local, non-native stakeholders. Land in this part of British Columbia is very valuable; therefore landowners could make a tidy profit by developing their lands. However, certain lands cannot be developed because they are designated part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. The concern is that Tsawwassen is getting special treatment:  via this treaty, they have achieved the right to develop lands that formerly were part of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

From Tsawwassen’s perspective, the non-native community wants to have it both ways. Some years ago, the provincial government expropriated Tsawwassen lands in order to facilitate construction of the Roberts Bank Superport, the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, and associated railway lines to transport goods. The port has a Wikipedia entry:

Roberts Bank Superport, also commonly referred to as Deltaport, is a port terminal facility located in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. It is an integral part of the Port of Vancouver. … Created as a port on the West Coast for the export of coal brought in by CN Rail in the early 1960s, a container facility was added in 1997 and it is now one of the busiest import/export ports in North America and a major hub for container trucking companies.

So non-natives can expropriate Tsawwassen lands to develop them; but we’re not going to allow the First Nation to develop its lands? You can see why this wouldn’t go down very well from Tsawwassen’s perspective. Controversial or not, the treaty will remove those lands from the Agricultural Land Reserve, allowing Tsawwassen to develop them.

The agreement won’t take effect until it has been ratified by both the federal and provincial governments, and various logistical details are sorted out. My guess is, the agreement will take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year (April 1, 2008), but I have no inside information to that effect.

In related news, one of the Maa-Nulth First Nations (Huu-ay-aht First Nation) has voted to ratify its treaty. The other four Maa-Nulth First Nations haven’t held their ratification votes yet.

We’re pleased to see these positive results. A third treaty was concluded at the same time with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, which subsequently voted not to ratify. The Lheidli T’enneh government may put the treaty to a second vote at some point.

There’s a lot at stake here for the First Nations, who are understandably nervous about launching out into arrangements that constitute a major departure from the status quo.

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